A History of Clocks

My clock died a few days ago.

It was an old Westclox with a digital read-out, two alarms and an AM/FM radio. A relatively unattractive clock, it was made of metal, painted gray, and sat on the nightstand by the side of my bed. 

I never could figure out how to set the alarm, so it sometimes made its own decisions about when it was time for me to get up. The radio never worked well, and I could only get religious stations that were so powerful that you could almost hear them without a radio. The digital display had only two dimmer settings, one really-dim and one really-bright. I never used the bright setting since it lit up most of the room and probably would have fried my brain with its cosmic rays.

Over the years the display dimmed from its original setting. In the last year I blamed my inability to read it on my aging eyes. Sometimes, I could only see one digit, then maybe two, and on occasion more. Periodic flickering was also a feature that Westclox did not plan for. Never relying on its alarm function, the clock only served to remind me of the incessant passage of time and my inability to sleep beyond 3am.

At the same time, my motion activated night light stopped working, and I was forced to grope my way to the bathroom without the benefit of its guidance. I wondered if the two devices had conspired against me.

I bet the clock was at least 30 years old and was in our Northridge home before we brought it to Ojai in 2000. It probably would have spent another 30 years next to my bed if I hadn’t picked up a few days ago to see if I could brighten up the display.

The clock depends on house current, so I was surprised when I turned it over to find one of those little doors that tiny AAA batteries hide behind. It also sported a crusty residue that announced, Your batteries are dead bozo, you left them in too long while they morphed into useless blobs, so they spilled their rotten guts all over the clock, and you might as well toss it in the garbage.

So I did.

I stared at the abandoned Westclox at the bottom of the green E.J. Harrison and Sons trash bin and thought about what that clock must have seen in the years spent next to my bed. Things that were private. Happy things, and things that are best forgotten. Sleeping while the clock worked, passing the time.

Its image took me back to other clocks, like the big round one high on the wall of Mrs. Beck’s elementary school Latin class. Latin? Why would a 13-year-old take Latin? I have no idea. So I invariably just watched the school clock move forward, waiting for the painful class to end. Amo, amas, amat.

It was one of those clocks whose big minute-hand moved in stages. Not a smooth progression, but one that took two distinct steps to move ahead one minute. Ka-chink it went, with an accompanying loud click. Then it hesitated a moment like it wasn’t sure it wanted to complete the stroke. Then, finally, the second Ka-chink and the beginning of the next minute. 

A good part of my elementary school life was spent sneaking looks at the clock on Mrs. Beck’s wall, waiting for that second Ka-chink. And it didn’t end in elementary school. There were other clocks in high school that also plagued me with similar Ka-chinks. In retrospect, I would have paid good money for a digital clock without Ka-chinks.

Some clocks plagued me without even seeing them. My Uncle Max’s, for example. My parents teamed up with Max to buy a two-flat on Chicago’s north side. Not the expensive north side, the one where the working stiffs lived. Uncle Max lived on the second floor while we were on the first. His bed was positioned right over my head.

Uncle Max worked at a junk shop (today it would be called a surplus materials recycler). He got up five days a week at 4:30. His wind-up clock kept reasonably accurate time and went off religiously at 4:30. That’s all it did, no radio, no dimmer, no USB port, no batteries, no nothing. Uncle Max wound it at night; at 4:30 it erupted, and he’d let the alarm run down to the bitter end.

The ringer sounded like it belonged on a cheap clock, which it was. Like most wind-ups, it would ring very fast at the beginning of the cycle, and then run progressively slower as it coasted to a stop. I’d lay there, roused by the ringer, and wait for it to end. Ring…ring…..ring.…..ring.…… I thought it would never stop. 

I liked Uncle Max, so I never mentioned the ringer and, like the clock on Mrs. Beck’s wall, it brings back the faces and sounds of people I loved.

Now I have a new clock. It arrived like so many other things in an Amazon Prime truck. It only cost $12, is made of black plastic, has a USB port, and plugs into the wall. It has ten different dimmer settings. It also has a little door under which I installed two AAA batteries. It tells perfect time, and I don’t need to squint at it. But it has no memories.

It may last 30 years, but I won’t. Someone else will have the job of keeping time…and tending to the batteries.

2 Responses to “A History of Clocks”


  1. 1 jackielakshmi July 15, 2022 at 3:33 pm

    Awww how sentimental the life of your clock and other clocks you experienced in your life!
    Only you would put such meaning into something that most of us would see so inconsequential !
    You are amazing, and I hope to give your new clock some fond lasting memories.
    I love you❤️😘

    Like

  2. 2 Sharon July 16, 2022 at 10:01 pm

    I have some of my best memories from that 2-flat. I drive by it just to remember all the times I mowed the lawn, cleaned the leaves from the gutter, looked out the living room window, had delicious meals and spent time with my Bubby and Papa. I know how blessed I am to have been able to have them be such a loving and integral part of my life.

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




Pages

Archives

Recent Comments


%d bloggers like this: